“Hey,” Clinton smiles, as we approach his veranda. He’s sitting in a chair with his leg propped up. “You’re a nice sight to see. Today has been boring.”
“Notice he addressed that to her,” Renée says to the others.
Baka laughs. “Sorry, I’ve got to go catch up with the team.”
“I should get home, too,” Nomhle says. “But good to see you, Clinton. Hope that leg feels better soon.”
He nods. “Doctor says I can go back to school next week. You all can laugh as I hobble on my crutches.”
“Good, good,” Renée says. “Now you just look after our Wiki and makes sure somebody gets her home. She’s got a bad habit of trying to walk around on her own.”
Clinton smiles. “She does, doesn’t she? I like to think of it as being independent.”
Renée snorts, but doesn’t say anything.
And then they’re gone. It’s only me and Clinton and the ever-watchful eyes on the streets.
“So,” he says, as I pull up a chair. “Renée seemed like she was a bit upset that you’d tried to walk home alone.”
“She cited three different articles on why people need to socialize.”
Clinton tips back his head and laughs.
“It was embarrassing,” I mutter.
“Yeah,” he says. “You’re always so worried about being embarrassed. How do you think the rest of us feel, hanging around your big brain?”
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“Okay, fair enough.” He reaches out and takes my left hand. “Mind if I hold this? I missed you today. A lot.”
“No facts about hand holding?”
I look down at our hands, interlinked. My brain says I should pull away, that this is too much touching. But another part of me likes it and doesn’t want to. I clear my throat. “There have been a lot of studies.”
“And what do those studies say about holding hands?”
“Some say people do it to relieve stress. Other studies think it has to do with the number of nerve endings in our hands.”
“That’s interesting,” he says, sliding his thumb along my skin.
I lick my lips. “Did you know that on a single fingertip there are 2 500 receptors per centimetre squared?”
“No,” he says, his thumb still tracing my skin, “I did not know that.”
“We have a lot fewer on our back,” I inform him. “That’s why you can touch a person’s back in a number of places at once and they won’t know how many fingers are touching them.”
He nods slowly, like he is considering something. “So, how nervous are you right now?”
He gives my hand a squeeze. “I think this might have something to do with it.”
He nods, nice and slow. “Yes, it is.”
“I kind of like it,” I whisper.
“Good, me too.”
“But what if …”
He waits. Doesn’t smile or raise a brow, just keeps still, except for his thumb, slowly trailing along.
“What if this ruins things? I’d miss you if we were no longer friends.”
He nods. “I would miss you, too.”
“Maybe we should stop, then. Holding hands.”
His grip on my hand increases, slightly. “Or maybe we could just take it slow. Start with this, and see how we feel.”
“Okay,” I say.
“Okay,” he says.
“Sorry about your leg.”
He smiles. “No worries, it will heal. Besides, now I have time to spend afternoons with you.”
My insides warm. I glance at his face. He is a very handsome person. I lick my lips, wondering how his would feel on mine. A thought that sends alarm bells ringing in my head.
“Hey,” he says. “You freaking out over there?”
I take a deep breath, ready to tell him about stress, and how it works, what it does to the human body, when a realisation slams into me: I hide behind facts. I like facts. They are comforting. They follow logic. Have rules. There is no rule book for this, whatever this is, with Clinton. But maybe the place to start is by being honest.
Screwing up my courage, I say, “I’m having a lot of feelings.”
He squeezes my hand. “Me, too. When it comes to you, Winile, there are a lot of feelings. But like I said, we can take this slow.”
I nod. This is scary. But maybe the better things in life are the ones we can’t predict or look up on the internet. Like being with Clinton, holding his hand, enjoying his company. Letting my feelings take the lead. Discover what his lips feel on mine. Yes, I definitely want to do that. Soon.
Tell us: Who was your favourite character in the story? Why?